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The rite stuff.

WASHINGTON, D.C.: "The Wedding Dress (Vestido de noiva), written in 1943 by Nelson Rodriques, changed the way in which theatre was perceived in Brazil forever," says Rebecca Holderness, who is directing a staging of it this month at D.C.'s Spooky Action Theater. "For the very first time, an author was able to set a story in a surreal and subjective environment. The reception of this cutting- edge work gave the Brazilian theatre a more universal status. As an innovator, Rodrigues did what Villa-Lobos did for music, Portinari for the arts, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade for poetry."

The Wedding Dress was also groundbreaking because of its ensemble nature. "Prior to this production, theatres produced works that were 'star vehicles,'" explains Holderness. The original director of The Wedding Dress, Zbigniew Ziem-binksi, used 300 different lighting effects, "an unprecedented amount in Brazil at the time," says Holderness.

For her own production, Holderness uses movement to draw out reality, memory and hallucination in the play, and draws on such sources as Delsarte training, film noir, and Brazilian documents and photographs from the era in which the play was written. "I find myself inspired by reflections of the playwright's fascination with sensational journalism, as well as for rites of passage such as weddings and funerals," says Holderness. "These elements bring energy to the pressure at the heart of the play. The story is a murder mystery, as well as a surreal psychological portrait of a woman in a repressive society."

Actor Dane Edidi takes on the central character Alaide. "I asked Dane to take on this role because of her extraordinary skills as a performer. In addition, she brings a unique perspective to the role as a transgender actress, considering the fetishism of prostitution and the struggle of many women in all times to locate a sexual identity," says Holderness.

Spooky Action's The Wedding Dress is the focal point of the theatre's Rodriques festival, which includes readings and talkbacks. The play is a kind of festival in itself, with actors taking on multiple characters. "We call it the Wizard of Oz method," says Holderness with a laugh. "There is an emblematic core: Alaide sees characters from her personal experience appear in her hallucinations, and the audience is along for the ride. The mourners in the play are developed using 19th-century theatre techniques to underline the author's deliqht in the dark theatricality of funerals."

Holderness's entry point for The Wedding Dress is the comfort and freedom in being--or at least seeming to be--mad. "Many characters in theatre, notably Hamlet, are, or seem to be, mad," the director observes. "But when a woman seems mad in a man's world, the situation can be explosive."

--Eliza Bent

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Title Annotation:Rebecca Holderness and The Wedding Dress
Author:Bent, Eliza
Publication:American Theatre
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1U5DC
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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